If you are interested in learning everything about the food of Bologna then there is one noted authority on the Internet and that is Martin Yarnit’s food blog “Taste for Bologna”. It was voted as one of the best foodie travel blogs by The Guardian newspaper and “Blog of the Month” by BBC food magazine, Olive. A year since its creation, and now also writing for Italia Magazine, Martin’s passion for this most gastronomic of all Italy’s cities is undimmed.
I went to meet him, and his partner Liz Cousins, who is the photographer of the Blog, at his home near Bromyard in Worcestershire, to find out all about his love for this cucina classica.
And like many great blogging stories it all began with friendship and holidays. Martin made friends with a Bolognese foodie, Marcello dall’Aglio, whilst studying at Liverpool University and has been visiting Bologna ever since the mid-1970’s. Marcello is now the Head Chef at La Locanda del Castello at Sasso Marconi, and Martin and Liz visit there, as well as many other areas of Emilia Romagna, to research and find inspiration for the Blog.
And as you read your way through all the posts you will quickly see just how thorough and meticulous Martin and Liz are in tracking down the very best producers, ingredients, cooks, teachers and places. From trattorie to osterie, bars to cafes, tagliatelle to ravioli and fresh lemons to aubergines, Martin tells you where to go, who to ask, what to eat, how to cook it and where to enjoy the very best sights and sounds that Bologna has to offer.
His Blog is all the more remarkable because neither author nor photographer are native, and although Martin has gone to language school to learn Italian, as a native speaker myself I asked him how difficult it was in the beginning to get Italians, renowned xenophobes, to talk to him and let him interview them?
“I never had any difficulties at all,” he replied. “Most of the people I went to see, especially artisanal food producers, were so keen to tell me all about their work. It was this passion that I wanted to showcase in the Blog, to pay homage to Bologna and to tell the whole world about this sometimes overlooked part of Italy.”
In particular Martin had great help from Giorgia Zabini, the Press Officer for the local Tourist Office. “Her contact list was such a great resource for me, she gave me introductions to so many people and places that I really could not have done it without her.”
Above all, during his research Martin grew to realise that to the Bolognese “la cultura del cibo” was not just about the culture of food. “Food frames the whole of their life, encompassing friends, family and relaxation. It is a very civilising force.” This aspect is certainly captured vividly in the Blog. Just like in Fred Plotkin’s book “Italy for the Gourmet Traveller”, published by Kyle Cathie, you feel as if you too are one of the locals, going out with friends, walking into that inn on the corner, as if you can smell the Lasagne al Forno and the Torta di Patate.
The food of Bologna is very rich and the town itself is often referred to as “La dotta, la grassa”, which means “the cultured one, the fat one”, referring to the fact that Bologna is home to one of Italy’s most prestigious universities and that cream, butter, cheese, pork, cakes and fine wines are everyday fare. Just look through the photos of Taste of Bologna and you will see the region’s culinary imprint. It is the opposite of the notion of Mediterranean food: less is not more, more is most definitely more.
Martin started the Blog with a view to turning it into a book, as many debut food writers have found their voice and their audience, initially, through blogging. He is looking for a publisher and also hopes to create another Blog about his other great love, the food of Extremadura. Liz would like to focus on writing and taking photographs of their beautiful walled kitchen garden, showcasing, through the seasons, how you can grow and cook your own food.
For lunch we feasted on delicious cavatappi pasta with broad beans, peas and mint, fresh buffalo mozzarella with tiny Mirabelle tomatoes and a beetroot and cucumber salad. There was also homemade almond and parsley pesto and orange pepper puree, with Martin’s own Focaccia (you can see the recipe on the Blog). For pudding, Martin had made his very own raspberry yoghurt and almond and vanilla ice creams, served with hedgerow berries.
After lunch he took me to see the local village shop at Whitbourne, which is a classic example of the power of co-operative, communal entrepreneurial spirit. This tiny community has grouped together to create a wonderful little hub, stocked to the rafters with hundreds of different product lines and staffed by village volunteers. Martin and Liz, along with likeminded neighbours, are trying to secure Lottery funding to open a bigger village store nearby. They talk with great pride of the food of Herefordshire and Worcestershire: the orchards, ciders, local farm shops, delicatessens and butchers of the region.
I think that all this research, travel and writing has influenced and informed the way in which Liz and Martin look at the abundance all around them for sure. In their stylish kitchen they create meals worthy of Bolognese cooks, while plotting the next great adventure.
Food blogs present interactive, didactic and democratic channels for the passing of information and inspiration across the world, from one cook to another. If you are heading for Bologna this holiday, do not leave home without reading Martin’s blog: it is the definitive little black book of this fine city’s innermost foodie secrets.
Follow Martin on Twitter: @martinyarnit